UM School of Business ramps up recruiting efforts with open house

Members of the University of Montana’s School of Business hammed it up before the camera on Thursday night during an open house with Missoula-area high school students. The school, ranked No. 1 in the Big Sky Conference by U.S. News and World Report, is looking to increase its outreach and recruiting efforts. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Michael Oguine stood tall in a crisp white shirt emblazoned with the University of Montana logo on Thursday night, hoping to entice area high school students – and a handful of others from out of state – to consider the School of Business among their wide selection of academic destinations.

Oguine, a finance major and member of the Grizzly basketball team, left Los Angeles to visit the Missoula program two years ago and hasn’t looked back. He’s hoping to convince other students to do the same.

“The business school is actually the reason I committed here on my visit,” said Oguine. “My mom and I were really impressed by the quality of the school and the pride they had in the program.”

Oguine and a handful of other UM students and alumni of the School of Business joined faculty members and Dean Christopher Shook in an open house for Missoula high school students on Thursday night.

While pizza, cookies and a bean-bag toss were tempting attractions, it’s the program’s standing as the No. 1 business school in the Big Sky Conference that students and alumni are looking to sell. The rankings are according to U.S News and World Report.

“The reason we’re the best is because we have the highest pass rate in the Pacific Northwest for the CPA exam,” said Shook. “We have an 82 percent job placement within 60 days and 80 percent of our kids intern. We really stress careers, internships and placement. It’s like a private school for a public school price.”

Shook, like other deans across the Missoula campus, has taken to heart UM President Sheila Stearns’ call to action. Over the past few months, the interim president has challenged faculty members to rally around the school’s achievements and work harder to recruit and retain students.

At one point last month, Stearns told a crowd of several hundred faculty and staff that “we all have the ability to positively affect our recruiting yield.”

Alumni and area businesses have also taken up the challenge. As the university looks to boost enrollment, community leaders from a variety of industries have come to appreciate the role they play in building the university’s future.

For Scott Burke, president and CEO at First Security Bank and a 1984 graduate of the university’s School of Business, it boils down to alumni and community pride. First Security Bank hosted Thursday’s event.

“It’s not just the School of Business, it’s the entire university,” said Burke. “The university is such a gem that we all have to keep taking care of building it back up to what we know it can be. So let’s get a few kids around town back in the business school. It’s the No. 1 school in the Big Sky (Conference).”

That message also resonates with the school’s alumni, including Joe Balsam, a 2011 accounting major, and Kori Christianson, a 2014 marketing major.

UM School of Business Dean Christopher Shook, right, talks to a prospective student from Ohio on Thursday night.

After graduating, Christianson landed a job as the marketing manager for Draught Works Brewery, while Balsam found work as a CPA at Lee and Co. in Missoula.

“I remember the faculty for the most part – they were so helpful, always available and really tried to go out of their way to make it a great opportunity for students,” said Balsam. “Whether you were in the business school or not, they just wanted to help you find your path.”

Convincing 17- and 18-year-old high school students to attend any particular school isn’t an easy process. Competition between schools has increased in recent years, while the conventional methods of marketing and recruitment have changed.

Hailey Harp, a student at Sentinel High School, admitted to getting extra credit for attending Thursday’s event. Still, she’s exploring her future and trying to decide on a college and an academic program.

“I want to be an orthopedic doctor, but I’m still undecided,” said Harp, who has yet to commit to a university. “I’m thinking maybe this spring, but it’s still up in the air.”

For those like Harp, Oguine had a message: “If they go here, they’ll be in a really good position for the future. Everyone who works here is really committed to making sure that when students leave, they have jobs lined up. Not just one job, but options for the students.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com